tv Discussion on Private Lives and Public Image of the First Ladies CSPAN May 25, 2015 9:29pm-10:59pm EDT
see. i think in this role, we have seen so many sides of michelle obama. so many worlds in which she can walk with great comfort and confidence and so many ways in which she really is trying to make a difference, and i think it gets back to the conversations about purpose she had as a girl growing up, that she had at princeton and harvard. it reflects the work she did along the way on the south side of chicago during her 20-year professional career, where she is in the white house she is trying to show herself as an example to kids about what is possible in this country that is still pretty darn imperfect but where things are changing, and what one person can do. i think that she certainly will hope that message will be a big part of her legacy. >> host: would you say that michelle obama's story is the story of the american dream? i. >> guest: i think it's safe to
say that she represents an important chapter in the country's history. i think we have seen in her and in the times she has inhabited -- obviously great progress towards a world that is a. built more fair, but let's keep in mind, took it was only a year ago that michelle obama giving a speech to commemorate the 60th neaves of brown versus board of education pointed out there's a long way to go. she said this is a country where too often the police will stop someone on the street because of the color of her skin. michelle obama has no illusions that we have sort of crossed the great divide, but her story i think, is part of that history and part of that progress. >> host: this is a wonderful book you have written. i know you want everyone in the world to read it. but who in particular would you like to see read this book that
might give them better understanding, not just of michelle obama but of the american story. >> guest: i hope that the book will be read at a number of different levels. some people who are just really interested in michelle obama who has a pretty terrific story but i hope there will be people who will read a little more deeply and see themselves in this story which is a story that reflects such an important slice of our history, and i hope there will be people who will read it who may not have fully appreciated just exactly how recently we have seen such inequality and how much is still with us and will reflect on that and the kinds of things michelle obama is talking about and discussing and trying to change. >> host: peter the book is "michelle bone bone. a life. "to you for being with us. >> guest: thank you for having me. great questions and fun to talk
about. >> host: good luck. >> that was "after words," booktv's signature program in which authors of the latest nonfiction books are interviewed by journalist, public policymakers and others familiar with their material. "after words" airs every weekend only booktv at 10:00 p.m. on saturday 12:00 and 9:00 p.m. on sunday and 12:00 a.m. on monday and you can wam "after words" online go to booktv.org and click on after words in the become tv series and topics list on the upper right side of the page. >> up next. from the national archives in washington panel of historians explores the lives of the nation's fitter lateys, this coincidessed with the lee lease of "first ladies presidential
historians on to the lives of 45 american iconic women." >> now on with tonight's program. c-span's year-long history series "first laids: influence and image. "feet tee-under interview width 50 preeminent historians and buyographyers. in the book these experts paint intimate portraits of all 45 first ladies. this series and the book provide an upclose historical look at the fascinating women who survived the scrutiny of the white house sometimes at great personal cost, while supporting their families and famous husbands. and sometimes changing history.
our program tonight will feature a lively discussion with some of these contributing historians. to moderate tonight's program we're pleased to welcome susan swain, the moderator for c-span's first ladies influence and image. susan swain is president and co-ceo of c-span, sharing responsibilities for all operations of the public affairs cable network. she oversees programming and marketing for c-span's three television channels and c-span radio. she helped launch the washington journal, booktv, and american history tv. she has also been involved in the creation of numerous c-span history series such as american presidents the lincoln-douglas debates and american writers. for over 30 years she has been
one of c-span's principle on-camera interviewers, most recently on april 14th first ladies was released as a book by public affairs books featuring a collection of her interviews from the television series. it is the ninth book susan has edited for a c-span and public affairs, and as you notice when you came in, we will have copies of the book available for sale after the program and she will be signing copies for you. so now let me turn the podium over to susan swain and. >> thank you very much. [applause] >> good evening thank you for being here. i see a lot of familiar faces in the audience and i appreciate you braving the traffic into d.c. on a night when there's a
caps game, and for those watching at home on c-span, thank you for being with us. so many were with us for the first ladies series and it's fun to revisit the topics. as jim told you, what i wanted to start with was a quote from abigail adams when she sent john off to continental congress. she sent him withan exhortation john remember the ladies. and tonight we're going to do that for abigail. so she should be happy. because the lives of these features lid yas are often forgotten and shouldn't be because they're interesting and also made an enormous contribution to our history. what we tried to die is permanentize theirs history and what wearing going to try to do tonight is tell how some somes along with wonderful video and film from national archives collection and also some of their historic photographs and also the clips from our own series. so we hope we'll inform you and entertain you and along the way inspire you to ask questions because there's 30 minutes set aside at the end for your involvement in things that you are interested in.
our goals for learn that first lateys contributions to the presidency and since we're our embarking on a new presidential campaign we are already looking at the spouses of the candidates and i say spouses instead offed wives because the clinton intense changes the dynamics in what our definition of the first spouse. so that's something we'll think about as well. to whet your appetite, before i introduce our panelists i want to show you a priceless piece of film from the national archives collection from the truman library, 1945. national airport, when bess truman brand new first lady, was asked to do a very early event to christen an air ambulance. watch what happens. let's take a look. >> at the national airport
ready to be is christianed by mrs. harrisy s. truman who with her daughter margaret, will do the honors in her first public appearance. while mrs. truman is in for a surprise by an oversight the sham shane bottle has -- champagne bottle has not been properly prepared to break on impact and that is behind the scenes like these. now mrs. truman unaware her bottle is not prepared, -- [laughter] >> let's see how her military --
block. [laughter] >> mrs. truman kept her cool but guess was she was feeling inside in mortally embarrassed. what happened was she elected not do anymore public appearances. that is not a possibility for women today who hold this role because with the next presidency the eisenhower administration television burt on to the scene and began following first ladies everyone. bess truman was the last able to live a private live in the white house. that's is a pretty great entrance into what we're talking about, before the women who are sometimes thrust into these roles by history and half to
learn to adapt to the glare of the spotlight. you heard there were 56 experts involved in our television series from presidents day 2013 to presidents day 2014, when we put them together in the book -- we did the book thaws there are lots of books on first lays but never such a broad collection, and we're delighted to have four of anymore part of the process. first you'll immediate karl anthony, the historian of the national first ladies library in canton ohio itch lost count the number of first ladies, somewhere over a does he has written, and has lots of also online material about them and he is joining us here from los angeles. carl let me welcome you. [applause] >> ed ma medford is local. she is the chair of the history department at howard university,
and much published he was chev is a lincoln expert specializing the the civil war and has had a busy year. part of the national commission on the lincoln centennial celebration -- buy centennial celebration. and she has spent the entire year with the commission attending all of those lincoln events so as sad as we were to reach the anniversary of lincoln's expiration last week, probably bringing a sigh of relief she can reclaim her time back. so edna green medford of howard university. [applause] >> now i've managed to do something no moderator should do have two panelist by the same first name. so let me introduce you to carl cannon he has covered every single presidential campaign since 1984 and has covered all the white houses since then.
he is an author himself a biographer and he is also a historian. if any of you sign up for his daily real clear politics morning briefing, you get the day'll politics politics and get them with a history lesson because he loves history. he come biz business passion for newspaper and politics honestly himself father covered reagan race as a governor in california and was reagan's biographer so he grew up in that environment. great friend of c-span as are all or panelists. carl cannon. [applause] our h. >> our final panelist, christa thompson. in the wind wind. she is a reporter covering michelle obama and written many detailed stories and just told us she just finished a story on first gentlemen, which is perfect for our discussion, which is going to be norm's newspaper in addition to
covering laura bush she has also covered michelle obama and is looking ahead to the new crop candidates. krista thompson. [applause] >> now i know that many you've bring your cell phones to these and we have a twitter account set up tonight. so as i mentioned the questions are going to be at the one-hour point but if you see some interesting topics and want to send us a tweet,ry'll get them right here and nix your twitter questions as well. and that's for our c-span odd audience at home. so welcome everybody. we're going to start each of our sections with clips and the first one is really delving into our major topic which is the duality of the public life and
the private life that all of these now women have been forced into by circumstance, some of them happy partners along the way, the other history thrust them into the role but we ask a lot of them. we'll start with a clip from an interview we decide with michelle obama when she was new into the role, talking about the billion between public life and public responsibility. let's watch. >> every first lady brings their unique perspective to this job. if you didn't, you couldn't live through it. i think to be -- should feel natural to you at any level and i would never have thought that live neglect the white house and being first lady would feel nature. it's because i try to make it me. i try to bring a little bit of michele obama into it but at the same time respecting and valuing the traditions that is america.
>> this is not a new consent. in the book we included one quote from every first lady, and i'd like to share if you are you to the quote we chose for martha washington. i never go to the public place she wrote. indeed i think i'm more like a state prisoner than anything else. there are certain pounds set for the which i must not depart from and i cannot do as i like i'm on stan nat and stay at home great deal. now, more than 100 years later grace coolidge rode this: this is i and yet not i this was the wife of the president of the united states, and she took precedence over me. my personal life and dislikes must be subordinated to the consideration of those things that were expected or required of her. so it's something that first ladies have been struggling with.
how to maintain the sense of self with all of these responsibilities thrust upon them. >> so happy you begin the discussion this way because it's really goes down to the very root of what has always been a matter of fascination. not only for the american public but for the world public as you all probably know you hear so often from foreign journalists who are interested in the role of first lady, and i think we're going to see perhaps at some point certainly the role of a first gent, that it really isn't just about gender, that it's really about unaccountable power, and as you said, those thrust into it. so i think early on, when this sort of sudden awareness -- in the 19th century there was a sense of woman's name should not be in public. and so the whole concept that first lady was like -- a real conflict for who they were as
people to have this public interest in their lives. but jackie kennedy said it best. she said when -- during the 1960 campaign she said you pick three or four stories that are real about yourself, that illustrate a point a good point about yourself or your family, and you just let them give them out and that's it, and that is -- and you re-tell the same stories over and over again and use that and that's how much of your real self, a certain percentage. >> give to your persona. >> we didn't have media coverage of anywhere near what we have today and yet even the early first ladies felt the glare. >> you think of someone like martha washington, the first some who is actually setting the tone for everyone who followed. it must have been incredibly difficult for her. she probably had the same kind of scrutiny in a sense that her husband did probably more so than he did. people knew her of course.
she had always been around the winter camps with her husband and she soldiers knew her. people appreciated what she had done before she became first lady i think after she first lady she was popular but people began to criticize because is this is new territory for her and she doesn't know quite how to behave. all she has is the example of europe of european royalty, and so she is trying to establish some practices that would be in keeping with what they would have been doing in europe, and americans resented that. they certainly did not want her to go in that direction. so she had a tremendous burden, and someone like martha, who had spent all that time during the revolution with her husband supporting her husband all she wanted was just to be able to good back home and be a private citizen.
>> let me jump to christa and ask you about watching michelle obama as closely as you halve that's correct chip from their early days. did you see a growing comfort with the role over the years -- >> absolutely. absolutely. i think initially -- she kind of described herself in the 2007 campaign and her husband told stories about he needed to get her blessing and that it was a process in order to do that. but you see her now and she is fully brought into the role. she talks about it, about it as being a bright spotlight and whatever she stands in front of, the light shines there and so how do you use that platform? so i think for her being able to see the value in the celebrity that came with the role, and the press attention which she also is not very comfortable with. i was interested to hear carl says that about jackie kennedy. i think first ladies have done
that shared a few stories but kept a piece of themselves behind. and so michelle obama does that as well. but you see her enjoying the role especially when she is with children and pushing issues that she enjoys. and i think that is going to continue and she and her husband are young so they're not going anywhere so we'll be able to see how she continues to engage with the public. >> carl cannon -- >> every man up here is name carl. >> either makes it easy or difficult. so if -- looking over the first lady's since '1984 have any of them struggle evidence with the public-private duality. >> the clip you showed of michelle obama was -- excuse me -- of the two quotes, grace coolidge and martha washington,
mrs. obama gave an interview yesterday. she hit on both themes in the interview. she said what don't you like about in the -- kids ask you well you can't good out she says. i'm stalk her. you can't just go out. and the other thing tide you also want to be a first lady? she said, no, i wanted to be a beatrix. so that's not what wanted to be when she grew up but to me michelle obama has embraced the role in an uncommon way, more than any of the others i've covered. hillary clinton is an exception. she saw it as -- well, a stepping stone. and she often talks about eleanor roosevelt and says if -- eleanor roosevelt could have run for president now. we would have handed her the nomination. party would have been hers if we had this environment. so hillary clinton is sort of the person fix indication of
eleanor roosevelt 50 years later, but in terms of embrace thing real for what it is, michelle obama to me is almost a transformational figure. i've been -- i don't cover the white house anymore. i covered it for 15 years now. id did a person who covers the white house so i have to -- i can say what think little more. if alexis is watching this, you still have to be objective about michelle obama but i don't. >> transformational concept is interesting. eleanor roosevelt was seen as transformational but no one who followed her did what she did. >> susan can i explain? michelle obama is the first african-american first lady. we talk about that. people have written about that. >> right. >> chev is also, i think something even broader than that. the first -- i want to say post title ix first lady. she walks with confidence you. see studies at college campuses, girls when they're little, they're just like the
boys-athletic, and because they mature faster, just as good athletes and then they get to an age where they slouch -- michelle obama doesn't do that. she walks and has confidence, physical confidence, confidence in her mental abilities. just her self-confidence to me as a person is sort of an inspiration. >> may i just add very briefly. i think something really is so easy and so fascinating when we all have our public figures the facts of their story and we know what their resume is, and how often we forget those. what michelle obama has perhaps the greatest degree of executive experience before coming to the white house since lady bird john son. and when i look at what krista what you said about mrs. obama, i think she -- run reason that a lot of people are willing including -- look the clintons -- willing to give it
up their privacy and the intrusions is that opportunity to really make a permanent change in perhaps the way the american people think or perceive something. and we are really talking about some profound things here. lady bird john son profoundly helped change the way americans think about their visual environment as well as the safety of it, and has essentially been forgotten but was part of -- she gave velocity to that movement is a think michelle obama does now about what we eat. in 50 years people might forget she was involved but she has been part of it, and the chance to do that is while athey say ill'll give up some privacy. >> its often a learning curve and i'm thinking about modern first ladies we have all seen. nancy reagan, for example fought it would be like
sacramento when she got to washington and it was not quite the same when she got here. >> no. she didn't really like sacramento that much. nancy reagan got tough press coverage here, and the first first lady to get tough press coverage and i'm willing to be corrected -- mary todd lincoln because of the sectarian nature of that war. she is fair game. a southern sympathizer, a spendthrift, his stairic. we're still at it. there was a piece five years ago, was mary todd lincoln bipolar. it's 2010. we're city billing it on her. nancy reagan got that kind of press coverage when she first arrived. >> how did she regroup. >> you know how she regrouped. >> we'll wait and show people. i'm think about an example with hillary clinton during the campaign early on, two for one
and i'm not going to stand by my man and stay home and bake cookies. how did that campaign recovery? how did she recover from the learning curve of presenting herself that way? or maybe she didn't? >> the clintons -- i'll say this about -- i'm get to to quote a friend of mine, mike salt sir john mccain's alter ego and during the -- when the lieu lewinski story broke he say can this guy take a punch or what? and he was talking about clinton, and in the mccain world that's a high compliment. i'd say the same thing about hillary clinton. they take everything you dish out and they'll -- to quote harry truman, pay it back with interest. >> i'll add to that about hillary in '92 she was one of
the first presidential -- or candidate spouses to participate in the cookie backoff recipe contest. so part of how she responded was she softener her image. she was game for putting out a cookie recipe after she said i don't sit around baking cookies and that's the kind of tradeoff that first ladies have to make. >> let me stay with michelle obama and her early lessons on the campaign trail. she did have some. we think about how little political experience at the national level they had but i well remember the comments she made, 0 one of them being the proud of my country comment. what happened inside the campaign? was there a major regrouping? how did they approach that? >> she didn't have much of a team at that point. i it was still early on and she was winging and it was being herself, which she has auld done when her husband campaigned for senate or state legislator, that type of thing.
and audiences when she was in small places, in iowa, in new hampshire, they were responding to her but this time it was caught on television, and the press corps which had largely ignored her because they were still covering the primaries tuned in at that second and the campaign's response was to start to send her advisers so that she would then have some guidance to say, you're not just talking to your girlfriend, you're not even just talking to the people in that room. you're talking to all of america. and so a matter of making sure she stayed in line with what the entire campaign was doing and was hoping and changing, like everyone else. and we saw her flow into that and she talked about herself as being a planner and perfectionist and worried a great deal that she would harm her husband's campaign, and we see her almost -- it wasn't a
complete 180 because she wasn't a horrible campaigner then, but just in terms of not talking about him leaving his socks around so much or that he is stinky and snorey, which were things that were in her initial stump speech. those things start to come out. the ideas are still there but they're in a much more palatable fashion. >> she became more cautious but she still retained part of herself. so she is still michelle obama. i think that that's what is so likeable about her. she has not become the political wife where everything has to be perfect. there are times when she decides that enough is enough and i'm going to be that person back on the south side of chicago. and i think that's what we appreciate so much about her. and it's true for many of the most popular first ladies who may have been very willing to
support their husbands but didn't give they're all didn't give up everything about themselves. >> a nice segway into the two major categories that these women follow into, those who are themselves political from them get go and they find a partner and go along nor ride willingly and are help mates and then later on we'll talk about the ones who maybe history thrust into the role and had to learn to adapt...
the drop in the voice at the end of a sentence. there was a considerable pickup in interest when the questioning began. your voice was noticeably better and your facial expressions were better and i thought your answer off-line is good. i thought your answer on vietnam is good. i really didn't like the answer on the guard. [inaudible] >> therein lies the reason why we should talk about first ladies, because what other advisor could be that candid to a president? >> stu spencer may be.
>> wasn't their family owned television stations or something so she had the background in now and so as an advisor because first ladies in some ways are to their husbands whether it's in an official capacity or not they bring that out he could she want wants him to be as successful as he does. >> i think that clip shows you too when you talk about the first lady to various attributes as simply as human beings that they bring to the table. mrs. johnson i think like mrs. obama thinks in a very organized way. there very well-structured in their mind. jackie kennedy was famous for i don't have a schedule. i like to do things spontaneously and different ones bring different things and i think mrs. johnson her love of words, she had a degree in journalism her love for writing and her love of cadence, her love of rhythm but also like you said the immediate experience
brought back. that's not necessarily political in terms of policy but it ends up having a political result. >> this is not a new phenomenon. we have an image from the polk administration so we are going to go back in time. this was a time when women were supposed to stay in their sphere but mrs. pope didn't stay in her sphere quite so well. can you tell us about her? >> no she did not. as was a time of the cult of domesticity and chairwoman head when women were appendages to their husbands. they were not supposed to have political ideas of their own. they certainly were not supposed to voice those ideas that they did have them. mrs. polk had those ideas and did voice them at least to her husband and she reviewed his speeches. she actually tried to influence people to see things his way.
she tried to influence him as well and she did influence him as far as we know. so she is definitely stepping outside of that role of the average or typical woman during that period or what is expected of a woman during that period. she and other first ladies of that era did not always follow that pattern of you are to be the hostess at the party and its okay to give these parties because they are political. they're not just entertainment. it is not just this emptiness there. there's a reason why you are doing this but she goes much further than that. she is not terribly interested in the parties but she is interested in the politics and she does help her husband to get where he wants to be. she is supporting the whole idea of manifest destiny. in terms of the support for him at home but also beyond that.
>> we had one quote in the book members of congress at the time sing to the present i would rather talk politics with your wife than with you. it was pretty good what she did. >> you mentioned mary lincoln and you are talking about how we were still discussing her mental capacity but we have her in the political partner because she was indeed a political partner to abraham lincoln. let's start with you and talk about that. >> i suspect if we had tape recorders back then we would have heard a lot of conversations like that in lincoln finds out he has won the presidency. he turns to her and says mary, mary we won we he says. when grandison migrated he slightly more edgy and he's turns did julianne says well my dear i hope you're satisfied. [laughter] we think maybe she pushed him a little bit to run in to be
involved in politics so i think think -- he don't tape your space -- spouse without telling them true but i bet there's all kinds of conversations like that in the campaigns not just in the white house and the governor's mansion but getting these people to run. >> once they got to the white house and the war started she was shut out, wasn't she? >> she was totally shut out. first of all she was a southerner and there weren't any southerners because the union states were still there. she had relatives were fighting on the side of confederacy so she could never be trusted. it was alleged that she was a spy. she spent too much money. she acted less than sane sometimes and she embarrassed her husband in public which is something first ladies were not supposed to do. but you have to sort of understand what's going on with
mary lincoln because this was a woman who had lost a son before she got to the white house, lost another son while in the white house, had a husband that was not always easy to get along with and i think we sometimes forget that lincoln had his issues as well and this is a woman who is really bright, who understands politics and loves politics but she was born a woman. so she does not have the ability to do what her husband can do for the fact that she was born the wrong gender. she is living vicariously through him. she wants him to be president but she certainly did not anticipate i think the kind of vilification she would get when she got to the white house. >> we are going to have to fast-forward because our hour is going to go quickly but eleanor roosevelt ends up in a lot of these categories tonight paid how would you assess in terms of her partnership with fdr
political partnership? >> they were chairman bayh the same principles that people get so petty in looking at these people who have been married for so many years. guess he had a physical and emotional relationship with somebody who is very close to her, her personal secretary during world war i and she offered him a divorce and it was dramatic no question. but when she pulled away and looked at it, she realized there is nobody else i share values with like i do with him. they believed and they were both progressives. they were democrats very much like theodore roosevelt and that's what led them to work together and was also love because of his physical disability. she did not, she believed he was talented and she believed more in himself than her own efforts
and she really thought you cannot lay fallow. you must lead and first as governor of new york and that's really the triad in a sense for her role as first lady and then let the depression hitting and everything almost smashed as far as what we know in terms of american life she takes advantage of that vacuum where breathing is up in the air and that's where she says well this is what i'm going to do. it's always under the guise of his devoted wife helping my husband, you know and in a way it was. she did not start developing her own agenda until the second and third term particularly on civil rights and when he was always more political saying this is what we can do and what we can't do she always brought them back to principle. while they continued as a political partner to share the same values he often abandoned
them in practicality and she always was sticking with the more lofty way. >> let me move on. let me ask you krissah thompson even though you didn't cover these first ladies you will recognize the archetype is there to modern first ladies burst -- both political parties. these are from c-span interviews and first as nancy reagan and the second hillary clinton. let's watch. >> that little antennae went up when somebody had their own agenda and i would tell him. >> what was the first thing you would notice? >> you just know.
you can't say. you just know and you have those antennas. >> a lot of people thought it shouldn't be making recommendations about legislation or that i shouldn't be involved in working on behalf of what my husband asked me to work on which was one of his primary objectives because they thought that the thought was somehow inappropriate, that if the exercise influence do it behind the scenes where nobody can see you. i find that curious. to me i would like to know what goes on in front of the scenes because i'm very much the kind of person who believes that you should say what you mean and mean what you say and take the consequences. just like anybody else who is involved in public life. >> it's fascinating because there are so many ways to be political and especially for a spouse to be political. we know that hillary clinton as
first lady set up an office in the west wing which was like oh my goodness clear indication that she wanted to be political not behind-the-scenes but in public. when she was working on health care she spoke to the business roundtable and she was a public figure in pushing this policy and sought to engage people and work on it in front of the scenes. nancy reagan and we can imagine she was very frank about the ways she was political behind-the-scenes but we can imagine the ways that every first lady over dinner conversation or if you want to call it pillow talk or what have you is able to express those views and michelle obama has talked about this but her husband has talked about the ways in which she has influenced him especially on issues like same-sex marriage and immigration, social policy and the kind of describes her as in some ways his conscience on
those things. so you have to see first ladies as political figures in that way no matter if they choose to operate in the way that nancy reagan dead or in the way that hillary clinton has. >> carl did you want to say something? >> nancy is kind of modest there. it usually works out. don wieden got fired. [laughter] it worked out, not always for them. she is just kind of understating it. >> she was a very powerful force in the administration. >> i've never asked to present about it and i have always meant to but the first lady is one of the few people in the world who calls that person by his given name and that has the power. his brothers may be, his parents parents, his commanding officer if he's in a war but there are five or six people in the war
that don't call him mr. president. the first lady of his calls to guess by the name and it conveys the kind of into macy's there. this is a person as nancy nancy said in the sister of hillary clinton too the president knows what their interests are. it doesn't mean that judgment is infallible but he has confidence that their heart is in the right place. >> we are going to look at some first ladies other than bess truman have found themselves on the job either by marrying someone who's aspirations they weren't quite sure when i got married or knew it but really never loved politics all that much and then there's another locked and first -- reluctant first lady. we are going to start with one woman pat nixon who had an interesting relationship with the presidency and her husband's
quest for the presidency. this is her very modern speaking engagement at the convention. let's watch. >> i certainly can say this is the most wonderful well, i have ever had. [applause] [applause] i listen to jimmy stewart's introduction of me and i was so appreciative and grateful to him for being here today. i don't come out too often so this is quite unusual for me but i do want to thank all of you for your friendship and your loyal support and providing this wonderful evening for me. i shall remember it always and thanks to the young people for this great welcome. [applause]
>> so patricia nixon. why did she end up in our reluctant or happy role? >> i think the reality of what was becoming modern politics the media, the money, the partisanship, the attacks, the questions of stealing votes and i think she got disgusted with it. and i think she always felt she had actually been active and interested in politics before she married nixon. she was a supporter of al smith. she was a democrat is a young woman and met the roosevelts. >> they did their first congressional campaign together. >> together and used her inheritance very little bit of inheritance and there was a break-in by the way for all the literature was taken but i think over time she just really got
disgusted with the way things were in the 1960 election really broker. they had come so close and then she said don't run don't run, don't run and he asked her permission and 62 to run for governor and she said yes but then he lost that and the famous story where she made him write it down. she put it in her wallet a promise i will not run for politics again and of course he broke it and you know that ambition with all of these men and we are talking about there's a certain insanity to wanting to be president. so she was there and she knew the opportunity
really recovered from that. she didn't even want to be here when harry truman was president. she would come bring her mother to the white house and they would go back to independence and she decided she had a more important role in life than being an appendage to the president keeping her family together and i think we forget sometimes that these are people and they have these burdens on them. >> and yet they have a very important -- after german dropped the first atomic homage he came back from missouri she advised him the night before he dropped the second on nagasaki according to the memoirs of alonso fields who was a white house butler. she was in on the big decision. >> at the medford i would like to ask you to look back in your period of history and who would be the women that were in this unhappy or reluctant class that oak should know about? >> for mostly think would be
jane pierce. she did not want her husband involved in politics. she certainly didn't want to have the role of first lady. it's not even about being in the white house. she didn't want to be in politics at all and her husband had promised her that he would get out of politics and he had. she painted when she learned that he had one his party's nomination for the presidency and she is coming to the white house with the loss of a child again so there is this woman in the white house who is suffering from depression because she is mourning the loss of a child. she is having to deal with all of the duties of being a political wife, upping the first lady and a husband who doesn't quite understand why she's so reluctant. she was a very unhappy first lady. i think more than any of the
others. >> we chose this picture because this was the son she lost. it was 11-year-old danny and they had lost their other two sons of this was the third just before they came to washington for the inauguration and he died in front of their eyes in a train accident. the president actually was ejected from the train and the president went down and carried the bleeding child back up to his parents. it was such a tragic story so hot as a parent recover from that of being in a place where she didn't want to be so you really can sympathize with the situation she was then. >> and being first lady to a president who the country is in turmoil at this time. this is the crucial decade and so her husband is experiencing all of these tensions between the north and the south and she's a part of that. she is a witness to that and she doesn't want to be but she has no choice. >> we have many other first ladies, interesting first ladies in this category including
louisa catherine adams and elizabeth elizabeth munro and in the great story of item mckinley and others that i have to do that author thing and say you have to look in the book as we are running out of time. we have got to move on. first ladies have taken advantage of their position. this fabulous opportunity they have to make change by adopting causes. how recent a phenomenon is that where person with great anticipation wonders in the white house what is the cause going to be that the first lady will adopt and it's expected they will announce it. how much politics and political consideration goes into that decision in this modern-day? >> quite a bit. you know as the president is going from a candidate to president and has a transition team and is building its first ladies are also doing that and michelle obama has talked about being back in her kitchen in chicago and thinking about planting a garden at the white house and developing this idea
for how she would approach this topic of healthy eating and really pushing back against childhood obesity taking the song as a cause. i think it's a cause that she has really come to embody and personified. she is in d.c. working out and taking cycling classes and she is with children in eating carrots and pulling up vegetables and also lets move which is what her campaign is called. there is a nonprofit attached to it. let's move has brokered deals with walmart eating healthier food in stores in with disney to pull some of the junk food ads off of children's television so these are not inconsequential things. because she is first lady and this is the role that is wrapped up in her doing push-ups with allen on daytime television and
dancing at the easter egg roll so you can really see the ways in which first lady's take on these issues and for first lady like michelle obama really wants to push the issue in a way that is sustained and that makes a real difference but that doesn't feel like you are just writing a law or that it's hard policy. she did also push the changes to school lunches and that did go to congress early on. >> i want to show another piece of video. this demonstrates this formal adoption of a cause is a relatively recent phenomenon and sometimes it was thrust upon them by life circumstances. this is betty ford and she is talking about her -- let's watch. >> in a few weeks i will
complete my chemotherapy treatment and that will be another milestone for me. since that first year, i haven't talked much about the difference in my experience with cancer but at that time my mastectomy and a discussion about it i was really pleased to see it because it prompted a large number of women to go and get check-ups in their local communities. >> she changed the conversation in this country about cancer carl anthony. >> absolutely she did and it was personal and i think shell obama and jackie kennedy and lady bird johnson stories are personal. of course we only see the happy
side of it. there are a lot of obstacles along the way. let me add one quick little. florence harding way back. you do find that some of these women feel very passionately about issues and she's an animal rights activist. she started for the brief time she was there to really bring that issue of animal cruelty and even proposed that public schools adopt homeless animals and it's a way of teaching little adults and little children through animals treating other people with kindness. >> karo was it nancy reagan and the just say no campaign that formalize this need? >> nancy reagan's just say no was interesting. it was ridiculed by the elites
and the kids listened because drug use in high school went down after this thing was launched. i think we formalize it but i think this thing goes way back. michelle obama's other -- i think it's always been there. michelle obama's other issue is getting employment for the troops. martha washington did that before she was first lady. she was called by the washington by the troops out of respect. before lady bird still there was allen wilson's bill. it was urban renewal for the poor. it was a bill in congress and so i think this applies than the thing. we have codified at lady -- lately but it's always been there. first ladies care what their justice. >> what are some of the early examples. >> they may not always be full-blown causes but even after she becomes first lady she has a reception from veterans and
soldiers she's so concerned about them. you have mrs. fillmore who is responsible for developing the white house library. i think dolley madison is involved in working with orphans and getting her friends involved. >> louisa adams is talking about women's rights in the early 1800's. her husband is the jimmy carter that era. he's in the congress leaving the argument against slavery and she is winning the argument against suffrage. it was reported in the press one of the earliest recognitions by the white house behind the first health and safety regulation standards in the federal work ways. >> and the one thing about the let's move thing, we have been sort of we are not arguing with your premise susan. it's more informal than it used to be an example is michelle obama's admission that because this was an issue that was a presidential initiative.
the eisenhower of and jack kennedy. so i think it has evolved and become much more formal. >> i'm going to go over just a little bit and really jumped to one last session before we go to the questions from the audience and that is the first lady and the media which is also banned the part of wilson's earliest days. i'm going to start with a modern one and that is answer the question of how nancy reagan managed to turn around that negative image. i don't know how many of you were around that she had a very unhappy reception from the press corps so what she did was to go to the press corps. you have heard of the gridiron dinner in washington d.c.. i will let you pick up the story from here carl. >> she bought these designer dresses so she was queen nancy. marie antoinette they are comparing her to. it sounds funny but it was somewhat cruel. do we have a clip click she goes
to the gridiron and nancy herself is a former thespian not just her husband and she stole the room. >> here's a clip of the reagan presidential library. she is being interviewed by hedrick smith a well-known political reporter telling the story of how she disarmed the press corps at the gridiron club. let's listen in. [inaudible] maybe i have a 50/50 chance. [inaudible]
♪ [laughter] ♪ [laughter] >> you guys are pretty easy. >> she got us. we were eating out of her hand. >> so back in history just two quick images i want to show you because first lady's learned early on to harness the news media to control images. this is lou hoover and first this is a photograph or she
hired a well-known photographer frances benjamin johnston to photograph her grandchild davy mckee who became a global celebrity, isn't that right carl? she wanted to do it because you wanted to control the public image interests and her family. >> rather than have them exploited. >> did it were? >> not really. [laughter] they were happy to get the pictures and they still exploited them. he was a cartoon character. he was used is like a little mascot for the administrations he would see this little cartoon of this little boy with a big hat of his grandfather. >> another person to try this was edith roosevelt also using the same photographer. there's a family photograph hiring the same photographer benjamin johnson and she also wants to control access to that big tusseling family but at the same time the present love the coverage varied.
>> until his daughter alice was photographed picking winnings at the racetrack from a bookie. and then he called the president called the new york herald angrily on the phone and insisted he was jobless story. >> who was the first lady to hire full-time press secretary? >> goes really well in formal terms, jackie kennedy. but the others had kind of functions in that capacity. >> they knew they needed help. >> they knew they needed help and mrs. hoover had for five secretaries. one was very good interfacing with the reporters but she didn't have the title. >> another clip for you. this is just too much fun. you know the white house correspondents' dinner is another one of these big press dinners. it's actually coming up this
weekend has become hollywood on the east. it's become quite the event. there have been times when first ladies and their husbands have used that to help enhance the image. let's watch laura bush at one of these just a few years ago. >> i said the other day george if he really wants to end tyranny and the world you are going to have to stay up later. [laughter] i am married to the president of the united states and here is our typical evening. [laughter] 9:00 mr. excitement here is sound asleep. and i'm watching "desperate housewives." [laughter]
apopka with lynne cheney. ladies and gentlemen i am a desperate housewife. [laughter] >> so carl there was a lot of criticism of the presidents policies especially among the press corps who were at this dinner. how did this technique of humor once again work to help the bush's image? >> well we were at war at this time and it doesn't change the coverage about the big issues of the day but when people can laugh at themselves. this is true of nancy reagan, george bush, ronald reagan bill clinton, all of them it humanizes them and away. bill clinton gave kind of a nasty speech at this thing. he criticize bob dole and john kasich.
by the end he was hiring professional writers. the comics did want to follow him because he was so funny. he was making fun of himself being home alone. he had this whole skit in the first ladies started relatively recently. they don't make fun of themselves exactly. nancy did it she had to. they make fun of their husbands. that's considered okay. if hillary clinton is president and the whole town will want to know what she says about bill clinton, believe me. >> this is going to be the last clip and it's back to really what presidents have today the tools they have, social media youtube and the like but it also is a very difficult thing to manage because all day long people are commenting on their policies at the white house. it's one of those give up and take away things at the same time. this is a nice way to end this part of the discussion to see how a modern president uses the tools that we have a communication to help advance policy to present their image of
themselves. >> hey everybody am so excited to talk to you about the fifth anniversary of let's move. it's a big one and our theme this year is celebrated challenge. we will celebrate all the tremendous progress we have made made. >> hey abc in my -- what's going on here? >> we are celebrating a big anniversary. >> oh. what exactly are we celebrating. >> it's been five years since we have celebrated let's move. >> let's move, that's exactly what i was going to say. >> for starters i'm going to ask folks across the country to give me five and i want kids and a few celebrities to give me five ways to be healthy. for example they can do five jumping jacks, push-ups or find a way to work five healthy
habits into their daily routine. >> we have all got time for that. >> that's the point. everybody, give me five. tweet it, instagram facebook it with the hashtag give me five and pass on the challenge to someone else. >> we are still filming? >> yeah and by the way your tie is right there on the ground. >> that's halfway to a push-up. [laughter] >> before you answer what do historians think about the state of the modern presidents and first ladies today and what we have been due? >> it's always been this stage. whether it's andrew jackson with his big cape or harriet lane coming in with her fan and making a real dramatic entrance. whatever the changing technology is these people are experts. they are leaders.
they know they are leaders. they tend to lead and they own it so i think just like the obama stood you saw the reagans do and you saw the kennedys do it. we saw ike and mindy do it. they all on it and it's a stage and they are on it. >> the world has evolved over time but the basics whether it is martha washington or michelle obama there are certain things we are expecting of them in certain things the president is expecting up as first lady but it changes according to the circumstances that they find themselves then. >> or two journalists and i would invite folks who have microphones on either sides of any of you have questions, find your way out and get to the microphone and we will get your questions. for krissah thompson and carl cannon i have to ask you they are doing this as a way to get around -- >> that's exactly right.
the obama sixes in a world where they are social media and it's the first administration to really utilize twitter facebook, instagram, fine. the first lady had pinterest and that tom burr page when she was in japan, in cambodia recently and so when she was there she traveled with a youtube celebrity who asked her questions on twitter but she did not sit down with traditional reporters there. so the way her staff would explain it is she has a certain amount of time to do communications and she wants to meet people where they are and the people are coming following her by the millions on twitter and able to see the photos that they put out on instagram then you know the power of being able
to shape one's own image without the quote unquote filter of the traditional media is fair and away that it wasn't before. i have interviewed michelle obama. she did more interviews with traditional media earlier on and she's a great interview. frank, answers your question all the things you would imagine so it's not a lack of capability but there is a power in being able to exercise the ability to get on magazine covers to be on late night television to have daytime tv conversations that shapes the conversation away that the white house is pulling control. >> kara we have to get two questions. a quick response. >> there's nothing wrong with that. a good cause. it's not controversial and is healthy.
we don't like them going around the sun health care policy. there's nothing wrong with that. nobody could pull it off as well as they did. >> there are reports or rumors that at least 21st ladies that i know ran the country when their husbands were ill and mrs. wilson and nancy reagan. is that true or is it not true? >> i would say and really sort of a quick response to that when you say the presidents you have to look at the different components of the president and one of them is making the final decision on things. sometimes it's improving things and sometimes it's making the decision to not make a decision. sometimes it's firing and sometimes a tiring so yes partially mrs. wilson assumes some of that during the crisis
and of course her real agenda was to protect her husband hopefully getting better. nancy reagan, i would say nancy reagan worked in a sense, they hate to fulfill a function that might be similar to a west wing aid, maybe senior adviser but not assuming the role of president. >> we realize that first ladies while the husband is in office is kind of stuck with the role. what happens to first ladies afterwards? how much privacy do they have? how much can they go off script? what is life like for them? >> spending time with laura bush last year she was eager to talk about how much to use enjoying life post-presidency and it was interesting to watch her because she was very much shaped by an architect. i wouldn't use the word reluctant necessarily but the
quiet behind-the-scenes spouse and now we see her traveling more than the former president. she is working on launching a global program that will bring first ladies around the world together and has done some of that in africa. she has been in washington with michelle obama and she just sort of talk about the freedom of still having the platform which first ladies now do with the modern presidential library and museum system and foundations that they can use that still talk about causes that are important to them but to do it in a way where you know she could choose to sit down with the press for a few minutes. they are knocked off by the media and the lack of privacy that comes along with living here. >> that's a subject for another exploration. the influence that they continue to have. >> we talk about jimmy carter
being tickled cliché is a great ex-president not everyone agrees with that but he's and all these things. they go and they moderate elections and build homes for habitat for humanity. she is a partner every much as she was in the white house. >> and not simply just a partner to him but he is a partner to her because she she is really of fascinating woman that gets along with no press because she doesn't not necessarily for press or credit but her work on mental health goes back when he was governor and she has really had an impact day jimmy wrote a book
sometimes the president said no so i think we know welfare reform there was a little bit of contention between them. if not 100% known on all the matters that she did but there were quite a few that she did not. >> she is a very talented person but reticent to engage with the press so she doesn't really get her story out to. >> do we have a photo we can put up what we are talking about if? >> she wouldn't even agreed to do interviews with people who want to do puff pieces on there and there's a story of the female reporter that dressed up as a girl scout and crash the meeting. she was mad and wouldn't talk to
for these last eight years, these last 12 years and 16 years it will be as a first gentleman. when you look at a status he has had on the role he takes on the persona not too dissimilar from the kinds of roles that first ladies have played. usually nonpartisan and is usually not political. the second thing i would say is we have to look at the press during the 1984 presidential election when the democratic vice presidential candidate from geraldine ferrari her husband john's apparo was suddenly thrust into the public and there were all kinds of questions raised about what kind of
influence does he have and do they talk about policy and what are his business interests? i have always maintained that while it's at the root of a lot of it is really more about you know the unaccountable power of the spells. outside the realm of american history you look at other world governments and you see that issues have come up when there is then a male spouse to a female in power in one form of government or another. >> that unaccountable power is really why we are talking about these women. >> i've been taking a look at that but in terms of the state level because we have five women who are serving as governor now and they are all married so they are is a first gentleman in new mexico oklahoma and a couple of other states and it's interesting because while the state level spells whether male or female can often continue in their careers the official
world that they play in their spouses administration looks very much like what first ladies do. they take on projects with the executive mansion and they are responsible for restoration. they usually have some sort of cause whether it's big or small. the first gentleman of oklahoma actually posed for the fun of a cookbook. [laughter] and the proceeds went to the nonprofit. he has his apron on and is grilling with wade christiansen and he has a platter of chicken and ribs. so you know it's a macho cookbook but it's a good book so the role of the spells like carl was saying still remains that of a support. if the family has small children often i mean marriage has changed generally. you are saying the spouse who is not the governor of male or
female is a spouse of them becomes more responsible for caregiving and takes those sorts of things on because their spouse has a more important job. >> we had a chance to interview laura bush for the first ladies project and now the clip where she has a little edge to her boys voice were she says you know i wonder if they are going to the critique what kinds of ties that where. the clip we chose for you was when we asked the question should we pay our first lady's? they are working basically full-time at this job and here's what she had to say. >> the interesting question really is not should they receive a salary or should they be able to work for a salary at their job? that they might if already had and i think that is what they will have to come to terms with, and certainly the first gentleman whatever he did if he was a lawyer or whatever so i
think that's really the question we should ask is should she have a career during those years that her husband as president? in addition to serving as first lady. >> we are about to see over the next year and a half or so all kinds of questions that come up because the same situation as thrust upon us. we have about five minutes left and i'm going to ask you all to wrap up. there's a session we didn't get to which is the game changers. who are the women throughout history who are in this role that really made a difference that people could spend a little time on to find out more about. >> edna roosevelt. don't think you could find anybody who gets that title or then eleanor roosevelt. this is a woman who is well-educated, had real serious concerns about where her country was, was married to the most powerful man in the country, and
the world perhaps but she had her own agenda. she was writing a news column. she was doing a radio. she was in newsreels. she was -- she defined the dar. she was a member of the board of the naacp aired -- the naacp. it may be that there's never been a first lady before sense like her but i think she sort of stand-alone in what she was able to accomplish as her own self and not just as the extension of her husband and her husband's interest of which he was able to accomplish on her own. it's extraordinary. >> carl cannon what would you say? >> i would say all in our roosevelt for all these reasons and a couple of other examples.
roosevelt is courting southern democrats that he could win re-election again and again. she is confronting him privately on this. there are riots in the shipyards. these men are fighting world war ii. we are fighting racism and fighting nazism. we cannot let these shipyards be segregationist. when she doesn't get satisfaction which is quite often she goes out to other people in the party. she is a social liberal at the time. she has rival power centers and she's not afraid to call people. the newspaper column that she writes this is the press so strong. bess truman did want to do it in naming eisner did once do it but it was so strong it is not gone away now they'll do it. this interview that michelle obama gave the other day you can hear echoes of eleanor annette personal stuff policy stuff. the first question asked her is what is the coolest part of the job click she says i got to meet the pope. i got to meet george clooney.
i got to meet the queen but then she talks about policy stuff too. to meet eleanor is the prototype. >> her column was called my dad and she went through it. chris idea financer? >> i do. i would say first i'm eager to see how history remembers michelle obama and two i'm a texan so lady bird has saved special appeal for me. i love that clip that you showed earlier because we know what a tough guy lbj was and how we spoke to people and the way she -- khamenei conversation is quite brilliant and also carl anthony mentioned earlier that work she did on unification and the ways in which we can now see in retrospect that laid some groundwork for the environmental movement that we all know today that did not exist in a way that it